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Lord Dixon-Smith: We are back in the business of whether we treat authorities as responsible and adult, or as children in nursery school. That is how I see this aspect of it. I regret it. I shall study the Minister's reply. She and I have debated matters of this type over many years and she will know and completely understand if I take no responsibility for what has gone before--from any government. I have been involved in local government for a very long time. I shall study what has been said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Skelmersdale): In calling Amendment No. 37, I should advise the Committee that, if agreed to, I cannot call Amendment No. 38.

Lord Dixon-Smith had given notice of his intention to move Amendment No. 37:

Page 4, line 10, leave out paragraphs (a) and (b)

The noble Lord said: This amendment follows on from the previous one. If the previous amendment were accepted, then this would become necessary to make sense of what is written there. It is in that sense that it was advanced.

[Amendment No. 37 not moved.]

[Amendment No. 38 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 39:

Page 4, line 12, leave out paragraph (c)

The noble Baroness said: I shall be brief on this amendment. It seeks to leave out Clause 5(2)(c) which allows the Secretary of State, in specifying a period within which an authority is to undertake the review, also to require specified functions to be reviewed in specified financial years. It seemed to me that this was more detailed than was likely to be required. In the introductory words, specifying a period within which an authority is to review all its functions, the Secretary of State has wide powers. I accept that that may mean that a particular function may be reviewed in year five rather than in year one. Again, under a provision so detailed and prescriptive, the authority itself is given very little scope to take its own decisions as to how to go about fulfilling its duties. I beg to move.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton : As the noble Baroness said, the amendment would remove the flexibility and discretion that the Secretary of State needs to be able to specify functions to be reviewed in particular financial years as circumstances warrant. For example, if a best value authority should attempt to delay or avoid conducting the reviews of some of its services, or face a particular crisis in its method of providing services, it is essential that the Secretary of State has powers to direct that they are carried out quickly and effectively. I therefore urge the noble Baroness not to press the amendment.

10 May 1999 : Column CWH55

In seeking to ensure the retention of this power, we believe it would be local communities that would be most disadvantaged if either this or the previous amendment were agreed. We believe it is essential to have these powers. I stress that they are powers, rather than a provision that would be used automatically.

Baroness Hamwee: I note that. I am glad to hear that these powers would not be used automatically. But this is possibly an area where we must agree to differ. We are not tainted by the history of compulsive competitive tendering, so I feel entirely confident in protesting about centralisation. I am disappointed that the Government feel it necessary to provide scope for so much central direction. I understand the point that the best value duty is owed to local people, not to the Secretary of State. The difficulty is that when one reads the words of the Bill, it is hard to fit them with that concept. However, I note the Minister's remarks.

I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendments Nos. 40 and 41 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 42:

Page 4, line 19, leave out from ("may") to end of line 21 and insert ("issue guidance as to matters for inclusion by an authority in reviewing a function under this section; and in particular guidance may guide an authority--")

The noble Baroness said: I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 47 and 48. The amendments deal with the subject of order or guidance in the context of best value reviews. Amendment No. 42 substitutes, in slightly clumsy words, a requirement for guidance in place of an order-making power. I say "clumsy" because I was uninspired as to what verb could be used at the end of this provision without having to amend sub-paragraphs (a) to (i) in Clause 5(4). "Guidance may guide" is not very elegant; however, I am sure noble Lords understand what I seek to do in this amendment. It asks whether it is necessary for the Secretary of State to order the matters to be included in a best value review.

Amendment No. 47 seeks to provide guidance making,

    "different provision for different categories of authority", in Clause 5(5). Elsewhere the Bill allows different provision for different cases, but I am not clear whether that is the case here. Again, I ask whether there is to be uniformity or variety.

Amendment No. 48 requires consultation before guidance. I would say that before an order as well, but I have chosen to go the guidance route. The amendment states:

    "Before issuing guidance ... the Secretary of State shall consult representatives of best value authorities". That enables me, I hope, to ask what consultation the Secretary of State will undertake. The Government have spelt out that the best value authorities themselves are to undertake consultation. This is a mirror image of that provision. I beg to move.

10 May 1999 : Column CWH56

7.15 p.m.

Lord Whitty: An earlier group of amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, sought to remove provisions for the Secretary of State to make orders and replace them with guidance. In the event Amendment No. 42 would have the same effect and I would prefer not to have to repeat my arguments at this hour.

As far as consultation is concerned and the burden of Amendment No. 48, that seeks to ensure that consultation takes place with representatives of best value authorities before the Secretary of State issues any guidance. I remind the Committee that Clause 25, which deals with any guidance issued by the Secretary of State, already provides that before issuing any relevant guidance the Secretary of State must consult the authorities concerned, or persons appearing to him to represent them. I think therefore our provision as regards in the requirement for consultation is clear.

Baroness Hamwee: I shall read what was said on the earlier amendments with regard to order making powers rather than guidance. I am not immediately convinced that the same arguments apply, but nevertheless I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 43:

Page 4, line 32, at end insert ("and by the voluntary sector")

The noble Baroness said: I shall speak also to Amendment No. 44. These two amendments refer to the voluntary sector and seek to add a requirement that it should be included as regards the assessment of competitiveness and as regards the consultation process. The Minister may tell me that this is unnecessary because the voluntary sector is included in "other businesses" which are referred to in this paragraph.

I would like to be assured that the voluntary sector does have a role in these areas. It is now responsible for some functions and matters that are closely allied with functions of local authorities, which otherwise local authorities might themselves have to carry out. It certainly has close links with local authorities in many areas and will hold views on these matters.

We are all aware of the work done by the citizens advice bureaux in the area of housing. Registered social landlords and the providers of specialised accommodation--who certainly in my mind come within the area we are discussing--will also have views on these matters. To take one last example, organisations looking after the needs of refugees will have ideas as to how best a local authority may carry out its functions, and again would want to have a formal role in commenting on that. I beg to move.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: I do not believe that the voluntary sector would include itself in the category of other businesses. I have certainly never heard it refer to itself in that way. This matter is particularly important given the growing awareness of what the voluntary sector can deliver. I refer to what has happened in the south-west recently. Because of the way that Objective three funding is changing the voluntary sector is reorganising itself, probably in a quite different

10 May 1999 : Column CWH57

way than it has in the past. Local authorities will come to have ever-increasing service level agreements, for example, with the various members of the voluntary sector. Indeed, my noble friend has mentioned the CAB, but the CBS in various areas runs social car schemes which, in terms of the DETR's ambitions about integrated transport and so on for rural areas, is another example of a particularly crucial area of work. Therefore, given the fact that very few people in the sector and certainly those outside do not regard the voluntary sector as coming under "commercial and other businesses", I see no reason why it could not be included in its own right as it is a particularly important sector and one that we would all want to encourage.

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